Former Nevada Appeal writer turns 100
Willa Ramsden will tell you that the past 100 years have been good to her.
And she celebrated that 100th birthday with friends Sunday at the Eagle Valley Nursing Home.
Ramdsen, a former writer for the Nevada Appeal under the name Willa Oldham, is also the author of two historical books, “Carson-Tahoe Hospital, a Caring Community” and “Carson City, Nevada’s Capital.” She said she has been blessed.
“I loved what I did, and I was fortunate to be married to a man who could afford to let me do what I wanted and not have to worry about starving to death,” she said.
She devoted 12 years to feature writing for the Appeal, interviewing and reporting on talents of people who were seldom recognized in Carson City – like architects and sculptors, she said.
“They were famous people who just liked living in a little town,” Ramsden said. “They put a 4×4 ad in the middle of a page and I just filled around it.”
Ronni Hannaman, executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, is a big fan of Ramsden.
“When I did the research for one of the first of the Chamber’s In Focus magazines, I quoted much of Willa’s work,” Hannaman said. “I had wanted to talk to her personally, but did not know she had remarried and had a new last name. In my foreword, I gave her credit, adding, she was probably writing the history of heaven,” Hannaman said.
“Well, what a surprise to find she was alive and well. We met and became friends. What a great asset she has been to our city, providing us with the history we all forget,” Hannaman said.
Writing is something that just came naturally to Ramsden.
“When I was about 10 years old, I was taking piano lessons. I wanted to be a concert pianist’s accompanist, but my mother would always catch me writing with one hand and practicing (piano) with the other,” she said.
She grew up in Southern California as an only child, and Ramsden credits her parents, who were active in their community, for teaching her selflessness and for shaping the woman she would later become.
“They always put it to me: ‘How are you helping somebody else?’ Even though from ages 9-14 I had trouble with them because they didn’t understand the world, I don’t ever recall them being angry with me – disgusted, yes, but never angry,” she said.
“If I came down grumpy for breakfast in the morning, my dad would say, ‘If I were you, I’d go right back up there and try it again.’ I learned pretty early from my parents that you had to consider everyone else. You had to greet everyone and be polite,” she said.
“I learned that I’m not here for me, I’m here for you, and that you miss a lot if you don’t open up to the other people around you,” she said.
Ramsden said she was unable to do many things that other youngsters her age could do, and as an adult, was unable to have children because she’d had rheumatic fever when she was young, and suffered a terrible fall when she was 12 years old.
Both issues left her more physically frail than her classmates, and somewhat insecure.
“I used to be shy, but my parents made me take public speaking for four years in high school, and I was never allowed to feel sorry for myself, even though I was out of school a lot with a back injury. In high school, I had a lot of tutors, and I was always encouraged to do what they felt I was capable of doing,” she said.
Ramsden’s career was spent as an executive with Girl Scouts, she said, where she worked in program development – not directly with youngsters. Her family also was active in the Republican Party, which kept her busy.
“A few years ago, I quit. I figured I’d done my share, and it was somebody else’s turn,” she said.
“I have not had a family in more than 40 years, but I have many wonderful friends,” she said.
“I’ve never been interested in my birthdays. How old I am doesn’t matter. It’s what I’m doing that matters.”